This season the zone blitz will be the blue plate special for
many teams. So what are the NFL's offensive brain trusts doing
about it? Here are seven ways they believe it can be beaten.
1. Run the ball. "Anytime I've got a defensive lineman playing
soft in front of me, looking to drop into coverage, I say run it
down his throat," Philadelphia Eagles center Steve Everitt says.
Denver Broncos wideout Willie Green, who played for the
zone-blitzing Carolina Panthers last season, suggests running
outside, "like Green Bay did to us in the NFC Championship
Game." The Packers are the only team that has run for more than
200 yards against Carolina in its two-year history. "Show pass
and get the linemen dropping and then go to a lead draw," Dallas
Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman adds.
2. Employ the play-action pass. "But only after you've shown you
can run effectively," says former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill
Walsh. "The defensive linemen will be looking for the run first,
and they'll be a count slower getting into their drops. But your
line has to be aggressive and sell the run."
3. Attack vulnerable zones. Packers coach Mike Holmgren says the
two softest spots are the area opposite the blitzer and the area
in which the defense is dropping a lineman.
4. Strike quickly. "If your quarterback is slow on his read,"
New York Giants coach Jim Fassel says, "then they have you
dead." "Be aggressive and definite on your throws," adds 49ers
quarterback Steve Young. "The second you pump, then hesitate,
they've got you."
5. Throw wide. The flats are a good place to start, according to
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh. "That's where the
zone thins out," he says. "Plus the linemen can't get outside to
cover. The middle of the field is where it gets congested, with
people popping up in strange places."
6. Keep extra blockers in and go deep. "We like to send a lot of
people out," Eagles quarterback Ty Detmer says, "and the zone
blitz forces you away from that. But if you maximum protect and
pick up the blitzes, you can get the deep one."
7. Flood a zone. Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy believes the
scheme can be outnumbered, especially when the defense plays a
zone with six, instead of the traditional seven. "We put so many
guys out that we've got the defense spread thin," he says, "and
we're going to hit one of [our receivers]."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Because there's less congestion to the outside, Harbaugh found that attacking the flats was an effective way to beat the defensive pressure. [Jim Harbaugh throwing football in game]